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By Barry Hunt

September 13, 2006

By now, many of North America’s flexo and gravure packaging and label printers should have a clearer picture about the capabilities of Drent Goebel’s VSOP (Variable Sleeve Offset Press). The company held a fairly well attended open house in Laval, near Montreal, Canada, in late June. The venue was the former home of RDP Marathon, acquired by the Dutch company in mid-2005, and now the technical support, parts and service center for Drent Goebel North America.
During the five open house days it demonstrated a VSOP 850 with a web width up to 33.5" and top speed of 1,200 feet per minute. (It was later destined for installation at an unnamed Mexican packaging printer.) Two other maximum web widths are offered: 20.5" and 49.5". The sleeve cylinders with metal offset plates are changed quickly and easily to effect size changes. Only two sleeves are changed when switching repeat lengths, which on the VSOP 850 vary between 15" and 30".
More than a dozen of the group’s business partners also gave their own presentations.
The press line included a Martin Automatic unwinder and non-stop rewinder, Teknik film cleaner, seven offset units with Rotek sleeve cylinders, and a Tresu inline flexo coater. The wet-trapped inks and coatings were cured instantaneously using an inline EZCure-1 electron beam unit supplied by Energy Sciences Inc. It claims its compact and lampless system requires far less energy compared with either UV curing or hot air drying. However, EB curing is generally considered to be more practical for web presses over 20" wide. Sun Chemical and Wikoff Color Corporation supplied the highly viscous EB offset and flexo inks, which do not require photo initiators and have high opacity.
All the main printing and finishing functions on VSOP presses are servo driven, allowing fast changeovers and minimum waste across a range of different substrates from thin films to carton board. Centralized automated control over inking and register is effected by an Eltromat Offcon III system, backed by the company’s video web inspection. The system automatically presets the ink fountain keys, either singularly or in groups, based on CIP3 data conversion files.
Kodak supplied the thermally imaged offset plates: Sword Excel plates prepared on a Trendsetter 800 II Quantum platesetter. It also presented the Prinergy Powerpack workflow system, Staccato screening software and the Spotless Version 2 software tool to reproduce many spot colors based on designers’ PDF files using five- or seven-color process sets.
One downside of offset for certain packaging work is that the plate lockups leave a non-printing gap of 2-3mm. In the packaging world this has been an inhibiting factor for some products when comparing the process with continuous engraved gravure cylinders or seamless flexo sleeves.
To create a gapless effect, Drent Goebel developed a method of cutting staggered profiles along the plate edges using a Kongsberg XL20 plotter/cutter from Esko. A high-speed milling head achieved the essential clean-edge cuts with a PC controlling the contour data. The corresponding offset blankets are prepared in a similar manner, but using a knife blade in the cutter head. A new offset sleeve mounting system developed by DG with Tapir, a Dutch company, completes the procedure using a special double-sided PET mounting tape from 3M.
Smart Label Summit Americas, a two day conference held at the end of June in Miami, offered attendees the opportunity to learn about the current advancements and possible future applications with regard to smart labels, including RFID. The event attracted 180 visitors from the USA, South America, Central America, the Caribbean, Asia, and Europe.
Several speakers stressed the need for developing global standards for RFID to make it easier to test RFID products and know what to expect from them. Item level tagging and its future, particularly in the pharmaceutical and retail industries, was discussed.
Neco Can, former chief information officer at clothing retailer J. Crew, shared information from case studies about customer satisfaction and how RFID streamlined operations at retail stores.
Howard Stockdale, chief information officer of Beaver Street Fisheries, discussed the benefits his company has reaped since it began complying with Wal-Mart’s RFID mandate. He told the audience that compliance with the retail giant helped increase the company’s profits and bring in new business.
Andrew Grace, director of George Schmitt & Co.’s RFID business unit, gave the converter perspective on the importance of converting labels. He explained readability rates and talked about lessons his company learned from printing the labels.
Ken Daming, director of product management at Mark Andy, talked about the success rate of printing RFID tags on a flexo press. Max Golter, vice president of sales at bielomatik jagenberg, talked about efficient and reliable manufacturing of smart labels.
Joe Gomillion from UPM Raflatac discussed how to bring down the costs of RFID tagging. He said as volume of RFID tags continues to increase, the cost per tag will decrease. Vito Buffa, market manager at Emerson & Cuming, discussed advancements in die strap attachment for inlay assembly using adhesives.
A panel discussion about the importance of converting labels from the end user perspective included Brian Millsap, vice president and chief information officer of Hampton Products, and Steve Rehling, former director if IT and head of RFID at Procter & Gamble. They answered audience members’ questions about what end users expect from converters, particularly in the area of smart labels.
In addition to presentations focusing on RFID, other types of smart labels were also discussed. Rueben Isbitsky, joint managing director at Timestrip, showed his company’s time indicator labels. The labels are activated by consumers and keep track of either time or temperature, showing consumers when the product should no longer be used. An example of an application is women’s mascara. Oftentimes these products are meant to be used for six months after opening. Since many will forget when the product was first opened, these labels can keep track of it and change color when the six months is up.
Timestrip labels can also keep track of product temperature, which is important for products such as meat, milk and other perishable items. Consumers can see how long the product has been in an environment without the ideal temperature, helping them determine if products are safe to keep and use.
Mike Fairley, director of strategic development in the labels group of Tarsus Exhibitions & Publishing, the event sponsor, spoke about advancements with smart labels and how small new smart label designs can be. He talked about nanotechnology, which refers to materials as small as one-billionth of a meter that can only be seen using electron microscopes. Fairley explained new types of smart labels that he thinks will be used in the near future, including communication devices located on pieces of dust. He believes that the future of smart labels is getting smaller and will continue to change the way
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